This week I’m talking tunnel books. In January I was fortunate enough to spend two weeks as a resident artist at the Penland School of Crafts. I’d intended to spend the time in a knock-down drag-out letterpress fury, printing all the things I can’t print with my own press, but as usual, my plans went out the window.
Once I got there, the universe intervened and I was struck with ideas for tunnel books. At left is the first one: Your Spirit Animal is a Blue-Footed Dance Machine. The text alludes to a moment in my life when I (finally) absolutely stopped caring what anyone else around me thought about me—with the exception of my dance partner. Anyone who knows me knows what a monumental shift that is in my thinking: I am not a dancer. I do not typically enjoy dancing at parties. There’s not enough bourbon in Kentucky to make me a confident boogie queen. But at that moment, things in my head shifted and some important realizations shifted into place, and my general outlook on life was never the same. It started with disco and a guy in Clark Kent glasses.
I’m a bird nerd, I’ll admit it. Blue-footed boobies have this hilarious dance they do to attract a mate (you should really google that now). And they have bright blue feet. Who doesn’t want to draw that? The pages in this book were all letterpress printed and hand cut with an x-acto, the old fashioned way. The edition of 10 is for sale through my booksellers, Vamp and Tramp.
Then I moved on to a revised version of The Barred Owl. The first version of this book was made of handmade paper, done as a one-of-a-kind for a show. I was never entirely happy with it, so I printed this second version on different shades of blue paper to play with the illusion of depth and moonlight.
This text alludes to a lover who is leaving, slipping away quietly in the darkness. Both books are bound in hardback: they open to reveal text on the inside left cover and the tunnel structure on the right. Two weeks gave me time to perfect my tunnel structure, adding more space for maximum telescopic action. This one didn’t photograph so well, but you get the idea. (I have to bind another book in order to get new and better photos: hello, motivation.)
After the birds, I had to do something wacky. I’ve been hung up on this wind-up pterodactyl I found at my local flea market (best $1 I ever spent) and decided it needed to be immortalized in a tunnel book. This one is also done on handmade paper (abaca and cotton), which is quite strong, and somewhat translucent.
I spent way too much time playing with light after it was assembled. I usually bind my tunnel books, but this one was different. I stumbled into the studio early one morning, having not had coffee yet, and as I sipped my coffee and hatched, I saw how the morning light streamed through the studio window and backlit the piece. It could never do that if I attached a cover. So I decided to make this book free-standing and make a box to house it in for protection. This way, the owner can display it in a variety of light settings.
Speaking of light, if you haven’t seen Andrea Dezso’s tunnel books, you’re missing out. You should also google her immediately. Her work is gorgeous and amazing, and now she makes things life size. The things that woman can make with an x-acto will blow your mind.
And voila: the case and finished tunnel structure. Viva la pterodactyl!
In the end, I did make time for a little printing, but it was great to have so much time to dedicate to tunnel books. I’m notorious for printing editions and then getting lazy on the binding (as in never finishing it completely), but this residency time allowed me to bind almost all of one edition and part of another. I made myself all of the necessary notes to finish the editions (soon, really this time), which are housed in slipcases.
Next Saturday, I’ll be teaching a 1-day workshop in tunnel book making at the Robert C. Williams Museum of Papermaking down in Atlanta. If you’re interested in joining us, check out their website for all the details. I’d love to see you there!
Want to schedule your own workshop? I do all kinds of classes in letterpress printing and bookmaking. Email me at firebrandpress[at]gmail[dot]com to schedule something to suit your book arts needs.